Surface water is usually soft water meaning it contains less minerals such as calcium and magnesium. As water seeps into the ground and percolates through deposits of limestone and chalk which are largely made up of calcium and magnesium carbonates hard water is formed. Domestic water supply or reticulated water is usually soft water which means the water is treated to remove hardness of water.
There are many reasons why soft water is used in reticulated systems. The first is that the excessive calcium and magnesium present in hard water can cause lime scale build-up in pipes which cause blockages and promote galvanic corrosion. Hard water when mixed with soap produces insoluble soap scums making it difficult to clean dishes, clothing and our bodies. Hard water, while safe to drink has also been linked to eczema and other skin conditions.
Hard Water Problems
Water softening is the removal of calcium, magnesium, and certain other metal cations from hard water. The resulting soft water is more compatible with soap and extends the lifetime of plumbing. Water softening is usually achieved using lime softening or ion-exchange resins. Other approaches include reverse osmosis membrane separation and precipitation methods by the addition of coagulating agents.
Conventional water-softening appliances intended for household use depend on an ion-exchange resin in which “hardness ions” – mainly Ca2+ and Mg2+ – are exchanged for sodium ions. Reverse osmosis (RO) takes advantage of hydrostatic pressure gradients across a semi permeable membrane. The membrane has pores large enough to admit water molecules for passage; hardness ions such as Ca2+ and Mg2+ remain behind and are flushed away by excess water into a drain. Lime softening is the process in which lime is added to hard water to make it softer.
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